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A reader Writes by Paul D. Clark: Power plants may create a sky of soup

April 23, 2002

A recent Imperial Valley Press article reported the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision denying a rehearing of its approval of the North Baja Pipeline Project. A pipeline is to be buried under the Imperial County desert to transport fuel to the new power plants being built in Mexicali.

This has been done over the objection of most of our elected representatives, representative Bob Filner, our Air Pollution Control District officials and we, the unconsulted citizens, whom I shall call, in a variation of a Maruca term, the "Slicardees." A representative of one of the power companies, rejoicing in their railroaded victory, said, "In the months ahead we're hoping to build our relations with the county."

Really! We who already gag at the particulates in our air shall wait "breathlessly" for what that might be. Let's see, if the plants go on unabated, we who share the air under the same umbrella, north or south of the border, will enjoy a particulate level far worse than now.

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I have an idea of what may well become a needed project to "build relations with the county." How about a new wing at El Centro Regional Medical Center for the treatment of lung diseases?

Or how about something along this line: seven years ago my wife, Mary Jean, and I lived in Los Angeles. During our residency in L.A., some sections of the city had such heavy smog alerts that children were not allowed to play outside during recess. What about presenting a plastic dome to every school in the Valley so that air for the playgrounds can be filtered?

Every family in the Valley also could be presented with a board game titled "Victors and Victims," the object being the impossible goal of moving around the board without landing on PG&E Acres or Sempra Gardens. It would just be a little exercise to remind us of who really are the Victors and who, the Victims.

"Build our relations with the county"? If it had been of any concern of the possible Victors in this issue to take into account the needs, if not the health of 150,000 people in the Imperial Valley, then they would have been willing to build their "money-for power" plants on this side of the border. If the welfare of the people were of any concern, the plants would have then been built according to U.S. environmental regulations. Further, their project could have given hundreds of jobs to the people of this Valley.

As it is, the specious reasoning goes something like this: "The plants are already being built, so we must connect the line," one company says.

Another company says: "We are just cooperating with NAFTA and we had to stay within the Mexican contract agreement and so cannot fully comply with U.S. environmental regulations. We can't help it if there is a spill-over of pollution north of the border. We have our commitments."

Were we, the people, ever considered, prior to all these plans and commitments being made? Even our Board of Supervisors was awakened too late to what was going on. One feeble follow-up confrontation by our supervisors with power interests was described by one member as "We held their feet to the fire." Sure they did! Joe Maruca nailed it saying, "We were slickered."

I feel badly enough for the people south of the border who feel so helpless. I feel there is far too much of that feeling north of the border as well. There is an acquiescence to power plays from the outside, which comes from being dumped upon over and over. We are good people and citizens of a nation whose leaders are supposed to represent us over succumbing to the pressures of interest groups.

Seven years ago my wife and I deliberately chose to retire in this valley, she a returnee and I, a first-time resident. I do not regret that decision but I have concerns. I like the people here and especially the cultural mix. There are a lot of other people who come to this valley for its attractiveness, its weather, its culture, among them the thousands of "snowbirds" who migrate here every winter.

I lived among them for five years and have carried out a ministry with them for seven years. A number of times I have head their observation that "the air seems to get hazier every year and it's beginning to get to us."

A word to those who are seeking to cultivate new business in this community: there is potentially a huge business here for thousands more snowbirds and retirees. My wife and I are among those who found coastal California living impossibly expensive. Think how many other families are finding a $300,000 median price for housing insurmountable. But a bottom line: they will not consider this valley if its polluted air becomes better known than its smiling sun.

I have heard of this valley being described as a dumping ground. There are lots of illustrations that would seem to support that description, but none with greater potential for the destruction of the Valley's quality of life than the one put upon us by energy companies. Instead of diverting our energy in arguments over logos, we need to be aware that our smiling sun may be sinking into a sky of soup.

>> PAUL D. CLARK, a resident of El Centro, is a retired pastor who teaches two world religions classes at Imperial Valley College and conducts services at Rio Bend and Desert Trails RV parks during the snowbird season.

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